EUGENE — Teams have started punting to Dante Pettis once again and Oregon will too.
After the Washington senior returned a punt for a touchdown in each of the first three games of the season, Colorado and Oregon State never gave him a chance for a return during the following two weeks. Pettis has fielded 11 punts in the past three games without finding the end zone for a touchdown that would break an NCAA record.
Oregon coach Willie Taggart said he will “absolutely” kick the ball to Pettis and trust his coverage team when Oregon visits the Huskies at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We are going to punt the ball and we are going to cover and we are going to tackle,” he said.
Pettis holds the Pac-12 career record with eight touchdowns on punt returns that tied the NCAA mark set by Wes Welker of Texas Tech and Antonio Perkins of Oklahoma. He ranks second in the nation with an average of 20.5 yards on 17 returns.
“Bad coverage and bad tackling,” Taggart said of the flaws he’s seen from teams against Pettis. “You better cover and you better tackle him because he’s pretty good with the ball in his hands.”
The 6-foot-1 Pettis leads Washington with 45 catches for 484 yards and six scores.
“I don’t know why he doesn’t get the recognition a lot of others do, but he’s a big-time football player,” Taggart said. “He has the height and physical tools, and he can run away from you and has strong hands to catch the football. You see what he does on punt returns. He’s one of those guys where you put the ball in his hands, and he can do special things for you.”
LUBICK'S REUNION: After Oregon’s entire staff was fired following last season, Matt Lubick took jobs at Mississippi and Baylor before finally settling in at Washington. Lubick was originally hired as receivers coach by Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who resigned in July after it was revealed he called an escort service. Just a few weeks after joining the Rebels, Lubick left to become co-offensive coordinator at Baylor, which is winless in eight games this season.
After about one month on the job, Lubick was hired by Chris Petersen to be co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach for the Huskies.
“He’s done a great job,” said Petersen. “I had never coached with him before. I coached against him a couple times. He was at Oregon State way back in the day when I was at Oregon. I thought he was professional and did a nice job in recruiting. He has been a great addition to our staff.”
Lubick was hired by Mark Helfirch as wide receivers coach in 2013 and held that spot for three years before being promoted to offensive coordinator last year. He shares that title with Jonathan Smith at UW.
“He works closely with Jonathan. Those guys solve a lot of issues together,” Petersen said. “That’s how we do everything around here, by committee. Nobody goes in an office and comes out with all the answers. There’s a lot of discussion and debate and then on game day, one guy calls it and away we go.”
TAGGART REFUTES RUMOR: Taggart was caught off-guard Monday when his name suddenly appeared as a candidate for the vacancy at Florida.
“It blew up so quick,” he said. “My son texted me when he was in school and should have been focused on class. He said, ‘Dad, are we moving again?' Are you kidding me?”
Taggart addressed the issue with the Ducks during a team meal.
“I knew the guys heard all that so I was honest and up front, I wanted them to hear from me and not buy into it,” he said. “Also, it’s a learning lesson for them that all it takes is somebody to throw a story out there and it sticks on the Internet and blows up. I wanted them to hear it from me and squash that to make sure we’re focused on Washington. We need all of our attention on Washington. Unfortunately, this week we got those rumors, but we have to deal with it.”